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If you clicked on this article with skepticism, I don’t blame you. Meditation is seen by many as hocus-pocus nonsense that’s only one step above the placebo effect. It’s also easily conflated with religion and mysticism.
None of the above is true.
Secular meditation, sometimes called mindfulness, is a growing trend in the programming industry because it offers real results without any of the spiritual packaging. It’s hard to measure empirically, of course, but anecdotes and testimonies abound.
Still a skeptic? That’s fine. I just ask that you read this with an open mind. Give it a few tries if you dare. You might find that it turns you into a better programmer as it has done so for many others already.
Why Programming Is So Stressful
“I don’t need meditation in my life.” That’s what a lot of people think when they hear about mindfulness — and some of them might be right.
But here are some of the ways that programming might be impacting YOU negatively, in ways you maybe didn’t expect.
It’s difficult. Learning how to master a new programming language is relatively straightforward. All you need are a few well-designed coding tutorials and enough time to let it all sink in. But using that language to create and maintain software? That’s the hard part.
Unless you’re writing a one-off script or a tiny helper utility, software development can be overwhelming. So many features to add, so many bugs to fix. It’s easy to feel out of your element, and when that happens, your mind can really suffer.
It’s monotonous. The act of programming is far from exciting. Sure, every once in a while you manage to solve and patch an evasive bug, and it can be satisfying when you figure out how to implement something new, but those moments are few and far between.
For the most part, programming is boring. It might take a day to plan out a new class but a week or a month to bring it to life. It’s monotony, day in and day out, and that can weigh down on you more than you’d think.
It’s long-term. Not only is programming boring on a day-to-day basis, but each project is a long-term affair. There’s very little instant gratification in a big programming project, and that can be frustrating — so much so that it could even lead to mental burnout.
The monotony of programming can feel like a series of back-to-back marathons without much rest in between, and even though you might think it doesn’t affect you, it builds up… and one day it will catch up to you if you aren’t careful.
It’s creative. A lot of people assume programming is all about logic and syntax — and that’s absolutely true to an extent — but there’s a lot of creativity involved as well. Is programming art? Maybe, maybe not, but I’ve certainly seen a lot of artful code.
No matter what kind of project you pursue, part of your job is to design and architect every line of code, every class, and every algorithm that you write. This creativity is awesome when it flows naturally. It can lead to anxiety when it doesn’t.
It’s sedentary. Day after day, you’re stuck in an office chair in front of your computer, typing away, line after line, for up to 10 hours per day and very few breaks in between. There’s a very good chance that this is having a negative impact on your physical health.
But it’s also bad for your mental health. You get very little sun exposure. You’re cooped up indoors for hours at a time. You’re likely withdrawn from socialization and have few genuine face-to-face interactions. This could all lead to seasonal depression and clinical depression.
5 Ways Meditation Can Help You
Is meditation the be-all-end-all solution to all of your problems? Absolutely not. I don’t want to overhype its significance, but at the same time, it’s very likely that a bit of serious meditation can help.
1. You’ll be less anxious. Meditation can help you regain composure and confidence, which can help relieve uncertainty, panic, and anxiety. This can be hugely helpful for beginner and intermediate programmers, who are easily overwhelmed and suffer from stress.
2. You’ll increase focus and productivity. Meditation can help you center your mind on what you need to do, which can help to eliminate distractions. It can also improve your mental energy and cognitive functions, making it useful for programmers of older age.
3. You’ll have more mental discipline. Meditation is one way to clear out your mind and relieve some of the stress that weighs you down. Those periods of relief, no matter how brief they are, are invaluable.
Less mental fatigue means being able to think more clearly, having more emotional stability, and greater willpower. This has to be built up over time, of course, but once you reach that point, it becomes much easier to endure long-term projects and not give up.
4. You’ll learn more about yourself. When you’re constantly distracted, you don’t have time for self-reflection. Meditation can open up your mind and help you discover some of the deeper aspects of yourself, such as what you really want to do with your life.
For example, it can help you be more decisive about a project’s direction. Or maybe it can help you figure out that programming is not the career path for you and that you’d be better off pursuing another tech-related career.
5. You’ll feel better. As you unload some of your stress and learn more about yourself, that will start spilling over in physical ways. For example, you might be more aware of your diet, your need to exercise, and how to fix your posture. But mainly, you’ll be happier.
How to Meditate (With Helpful Apps)
The general idea is simple enough: get comfortable, eliminate distractions, focus on relaxed breathing, and keep yourself fully in the present for at least 10 minutes. The key is to take deliberate control over your thoughts. It’s an exercise.
And it doesn’t have to be with eyes closed and sitting on the ground. You can practice mindfulness while walking through a park, brushing your teeth, or sitting in the break room. But most people do prefer the “quiet and serene” kind of meditation.
Here are a few apps that might help you get started.
Stop, Breathe, and Think
Stop, Breathe, and Think is one of the best apps for mindful meditation. It starts by asking you how you feel right now and how you’d describe your current mood, and then gives you a few contextual meditations that might help.
So instead of just emptying your thoughts and anxieties, it could actually help you develop your gratitude and joy, for example. Very useful if you’ve never meditated before and have no idea where to begin.
Available on Android, iOS, and the web.
Download Now: Stop, Breathe, and Think (Free)
Calm is extremely useful for clearing and destressing your mind. It has options for timed meditations and open-ended meditations, all of which are coupled with calming video/audio loops of nature, the ocean, night time, etc.
It’s free to use and comes with a seven-step guide for how to practice mindfulness, but if you subscribe ($10 per month or $40 per year), you can unlock over 50 different guided meditations that are simply great.
Available on Android, iOS, and the web.
Download Now: Calm (Free)
If you don’t like guided meditations, then you might be better off with White Noise. It comes with dozens of audio loops like rain, campfire, vacuum, jungle, heartbeat, and even literal white noise. Or you can record your own loops.
Combine these sounds with the timer feature and you have the perfect tool to use as a backdrop for your personal meditations. It’s really as simple as that. Upgrade to the Full version to remove ads or the Pro version for even more sounds.
Available on Android, iOS, the web, and others.
Download Now: White Noise (Free)
Try Some Meditation Now
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still skeptical, then that’s fine. Thanks for at least being open-minded and reading through the post. If you’re happy with where you are, then it’s possible that you don’t need meditation.
But if you find yourself overwhelmed by the mental and emotional aspects of programming, meditation can be an effective way to overcome some of those hurdles. If that’s you, give it a try for a week or so. What’s the worst that could happen?
What’s your worst mental obstacle when programming? Do you have any tips, tricks, or rituals that help you get through the tougher days of coding? Has meditation helped? We’d love to hear in the comments below!